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As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government grapples with backlash from conservative premiers, court setbacks and internal disputes about how to best implement climate policy, a new study from the UN finds Canada has the widest gap between rhetoric and action.
The findings were published Monday in the annual emissions gap report titled “Broken Record,” owing to the fact temperatures have hit new highs while governments are still failing to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The report examined countries' international commitments under the Paris Agreement, as well as what policies those countries have introduced to uncover what the UN calls the “implementation gap.”
The findings are stark. More than any other, Canada was found to have a 27 per cent gulf between the various policies in place and international commitments. The next widest gap is the United States at 19 per cent, followed by South Korea at 18 per cent. The findings underscore the distance Canadian policymakers must go to bridge pledges under the Paris Agreement (a 40 to 45 per cent cut from 2005 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050) with forthcoming policies like a cap on oil and gas sector emissions.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters the UN’s findings are evidence of the need to do more to fight climate change. At the same time, he said Canada is stepping up to the plate and pointed to clean fuel regulations, draft regulations for zero-emission vehicles, draft regulations for clean electricity standards and phasing out some fossil fuel subsidies –– all of which have seen progress this year. He said Ottawa is accelerating its efforts to fight climate change, as it's being asked to do, but emphasized it’s politically challenging.
“Imagine what we could do as a country if we worked together,” he said. Guilbeault then said, unfortunately, some politicians like Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and “some” premiers are more interested in debating whether or not we need to fight climate change. “If we all pushed in the same direction, Canada could be an international leader,” he said.
But as Guilbeault points to hurdles put up by right-wing politicians, internal disputes in his own party over the carbon price led to Trudeau creating carveouts for home heating oil, which largely benefits people in Atlantic Canada. Controversy over the move has since spiralled out of control for Ottawa and risks upending the Liberals’ signature climate policy altogether. Moreover, courts have blown holes in federal efforts to tackle climate change, like the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Impact Assessment Act or the Federal Court’s decision last week that threatens Ottawa’s ban on single-use plastics.
Taken together, the domestic political landscape has become increasingly difficult for the federal government to bridge the gap between rhetoric and action as required by the Paris Agreement.
Monday’s report comes ahead of the UN’s annual climate change negotiations, called COP28, set to kick off in Dubai on Nov. 30. This year’s conference features the first “global stocktake,” referring to the first co-ordinated check-in on progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Countries are expected to submit new emissions reduction targets for 2035 by 2025 and the UN says based on its findings, the new targets must be strong enough to put the world on a path to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 C to 2 C or else there will “likely” be “unbridgeable gaps.” In other words, without much stronger efforts on the part of countries like Canada and other high emitters that have yet to align policies with goals, the Paris Agreement’s targets will be effectively out of reach.
"The window for action is rapidly closing, and unless we act urgently and dramatically to shift away from fossil fuels and embrace green energy, the chances of limiting warming to even 1.5 C are dismally low." #cop28
UN Secretary General António Guterres said the report’s findings are more of an “emissions canyon” than an “emissions gap.” A canyon “littered with broken promises, broken lives and broken records,” he said.
“All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable and a massive missed opportunity,” he said. “Specifically, in their response to the global stocktake, countries must commit to triple renewables capacity, double energy efficiency and bring clean power to all by 2030. And they must also commit to phasing out fossil fuels, with a clear time frame aligned to the 1.5-degree limit.
“Otherwise, we’re simply inflating the lifeboats while breaking the oars.”
The latest emissions gap report presents “a chilling reality” that would be “a betrayal” to current and future generations to not take transformative action now to slash emissions, said Harjeet Singh, who leads global political strategy for Climate Action Network International.
"Our world is teetering on the edge of a catastrophic temperature rise, with predictions pointing towards a 2.5 to 2.9 C increase above pre-industrial levels if current trends continue,” he said. “The window for action is rapidly closing, and unless we act urgently and dramatically to shift away from fossil fuels and embrace green energy, the chances of limiting warming to even 1.5 C are dismally low.
“This vast contrast between our current trajectory and the Paris Agreement goals highlights the failure of rich countries to meet their climate commitments,” he added. “They have not only fallen short in reducing emissions but also in providing essential financial support to nations most vulnerable to climate impacts.”